A Trip Around Orion

Uploaded by shanedk on 07.06.2009

Here's something many of you will find interesting.
Obviously this is a representation of the constellation Orion.
What I've done is to put all of the stars in their proper positions in my 3D software
and the camera from the vantage point of Earth.
All of the distances are accurate to within one light-year.
The magnitudes are fudged; for the stars, I'm using spheres,
so I've made the size of the spheres match more or less the brightness of the stars
as we see them from Earth, and of course stars don't really work this way.
Also, the Orion Nebula down here is just a placeholder;
it's a sphere the same size as the nebula
but of course doesn't have the same shape or the same look, it's just there to show us its position.
Now, the point of doing this is to show what a constellation actually is--
or, more to the point, that it's not really anything.
Long ago they were worshipped as gods, and it was felt that their position in the sky at one's birth
or during a significant event determined what influence those gods have on it.
Even those who were skeptical of the gods had no way of knowing their true nature.
From what anyone could tell, the stars were all the same distance away and moved together.
The ancient Hebrews, among many others, believed in a flat, circular Earth
and that the sky was a firmament, a dome onto which the sun, moon, and stars were placed.
The Earth was fixed on pillars, and the sky-dome rotated around it.
And even when it became known that the Earth was spherical--
which, for the record, was way before Columbus, at least 2,600 years ago in ancient Greece--
the distance to the stars was still seen as all being the same.
Not even Aristarchus of Samos, who first correctly determined that it was the sun
that was the center of our solar system, could tell any different.
So constellations were seen as groupings of stars,
more closely related to each other than stars of other constellations.
There have been depictions throughout history of the stars from a god's-eye view,
where they're seen in reverse--a mirror image of the constellations we see.
Is this accurate?
What does Orion look like from the other side?
Does it look like this?
Placing the stars in their correct positions in three-dimensional space
allows us to take a journey around Orion, and see it from the other side.
Let's take a look.
So, from the back, Orion does not look like this,
but rather like this.
Also consider that I have only put in the stars most easily visible from Earth;
there are lots of other stars that would be visible in this region from this vantage point.
It just wouldn't be Orion at all.
And of course, when we see Orion from the side,
there'd be all sorts of other stars from all sorts of other constellations
included that aren't represented here.
So, really, the idea of a constellation is pretty meaningless.
It can be useful for locating particular stars in the sky from Earth, so astronomers still use them,
but no real significance is placed on them as it is with astrology.
It's just one more example of how much more enlightened we are today
than those who formed these 2,000-year-old traditions that so many people place so much value on.